How To Say NO To Your Boss And Coworkers: 5 Clever Strategies

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Today you’re going to learn how to say no to your boss and coworkers, to tasks that people throw your way without coming across as rude or lazy.

It’s a situation that many of us have been in, right? We have this get it done, make it happen attitude, where any task you give me I’ll handle it. And we don’t want to say no, but what ends up happening is that we keep saying “yes” to all these things and then the core job that we have to get done suffers because our focus is just so spread out.

The bottom line is you need to start saying NO to more things which is so difficult, especially when it’s more senior people asking you to do things, but focusing your time and setting boundaries is so important as a professional. Let’s jump in to the 5 ways to say “no.”

How To Say NO To Your Boss

1: The “Yes, what should i reprioritize?” method.

This one works so well especially when receiving requests from your boss. And so let me give you an example.

I once had a boss say to me, “Will you make customized place settings and agendas for everyone coming to the training tomorrow? I think that’d be a really nice touch.” In that one sentence she just assigned me three hours of work to get done before the next day.

So I said, “Yes, today I’m booked up creating the info packets, reaching out to each vendor to prep them for tomorrow, as well as getting in touch with each participant. Which tasks do you want me to reprioritize for this?”

And once she realized how many things I had going on that day she was like, “Oh my gosh those things are way more important, do not worry about this.”

And that’s the lesson here is often when people ask you to do things, they don’t realize how busy you are and how not-important their ask is compared to the other things you’re working on. So it’s okay to let them know what you’re up to and ask them to help you decide what to reprioritize and often they’ll realize, okay you know, you just focus on what you’re doing and I’ll figure out the other stuff.

2: Use humor.

Now this one’s a bit tricky, you know it can get awkward. You don’t want people to think you’re not serious about your job. But I’ve learned that being a bit playful about things can defuse uncomfortable situations.

I once had a co-worker come up to me, we’ll call him John, and say, “Marry, you know, I’m
cold. Can you go over to the thermostat and make it warmer in here?” And my initial reaction in my head was just like, “That is not my job. I don’t know why you’re telling me to do this. You can go do it on your own, I’m not the temperature monitor.”

Or the other thing I could’ve done is actually gone and fixed the temperature but then just been, you know, kind of grumpy about it. Like, “Why did he sidetrack me…this is…this is not cool.”

But instead I was just playful about it and I said, “John I think you underestimate yourself. I know you have a big giant genius brain and if you go over there and start pushing buttons, you WILL figure out how to use that thermostat. I believe in you.” And he chuckled he said a little banter back to me, and we have joke about it. And then I felt good, I was able to say no without feeling like a crabapple.

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3: Make it a teachable moment.

Let’s say someone asks you for something that you know that they have the resources to do themselves. Such as, “Hey could you tell me the dates of when the next conference is coming up?”

When you know that they have access to the resources to look that up themselves, make it a teachable moment where you say, “Absolutely, here is the link to the calendar you can find the conference dates, as well as all the important milestones leading up to it.”

So you didn’t tell them explicitly what the date is, but you showed them where to find it. So when someone’s asking you to do something, think about how can I teach them how to do this themselves to streamline the whole thing, and often they’ll really appreciate it, sometimes they don’t know where to look things up or they don’t know how to do things themselves, so make it a teachable moment.

4: Suggest someone else to do it.

It’s a lot easier to say, “I can’t help you, but X person might be interested.” Than just go, “Nope. Sorry. Figure it out.” This way you come off as being helpful without actually having to do the task yourself. This is especially important if you are consultant or you work for yourself.

You should have a list of professionals that you refer inquiries out to because you can’t say yes to everything, right? So that’s great because then you’re referring business to other people, building those relationships, you’re helping the person who has the inquiry find an answer, and then you feel good because you’re not just saying “no” right out, you’re still adding value.

I work in People Operations at a start-up. So that is just such a catch-all role, and so people don’t always know where my role starts, and where my role ends. And so they’ll come to me with things like social media– I go, okay no that’s more marketing.

They’ll come to me things about IT, I say oh no, that’s this person. And so I’m constantly referring people to others and that’s actually my way of being helpful, people appreciate that I am that center hub. But I could just take on all those things on my own, it would just be totally distracting from my other work, so I like to use this tactic often. Finally rounding it out with number…

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5: “If you can X, then I will Y.” response.

Someone might give you a big ask and before saying “yes,” think about a way to compromise the work. So for example, someone once came to me and said, “Hey Marry, you’re great at writing, can you write his speech for him.” And I thought, “Whoa that’s a huge ask.” So I said, “If he will write the first draft then I will edit it and punch it up.”

And this was a great compromise. I didn’t say no, but I modified the ask. And so make sure that when someone asks you something you don’t necessarily have to take it at face This one works so well especially when receiving requests from your boss.

And so et me give you an example. I once had a boss say to me, value. See if there can be a modified way that you can help.

So let’s quickly review the 5 ways to say NO.

Number 1: Yes I can do that, what should i reprioritize?
Number 2: Humor, be playful to soften the no.
Number 3: Make it a teachable moment.
Number 4: Suggest someone else to do it.
And number 5: If you can do X, then I will do Y.

Thank you for reading this article about how to say no to your boss and I really hope that you take action my advice. I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.